Whose Pride is it anyway?

Now that the haze and hangovers are clearing let’s assess. After a rough run-up to the festival for the organization behind the event, the 2009 edition of Toronto’s Pride Week went off without any major issues. No twinks were trampled to death in the crowds, no fisticuffs broke out between rival political factions during the Parade and, aside from the cancellation of the annual flag-raising ceremony at City Hall and a dance party at Hanlan’s Point, the city’s ongoing labour dispute didn’t have a significant impact on the festivities from a spectator’s point of view.

It was, all in all, everything we’ve come to expect from Toronto Pride: Plenty of opportunities to party harder, longer and faster; lots of corporations competing for our eyeballs; hordes of people who may or may not support our rights eagerly assembled to take in the spectacle of our colourful queer culture; and lots of folks high on excitement, chemicals or a combination thereof.

I can honestly say that I’ve never felt so disconnected from Pride in the 10 years that I’ve been participating. While I applaud the efforts of folks who took this year’s event and made it their own — a special shout out goes to the organizers of this year’s Friday night Trans March — I had a hard time connecting to the spirit of Pride, the feeling that we as queer people were coming together to claim space, bring attention to our issues and celebrate our fabulousness.

Although there were lots of awesome events going on during Pride Week (I particularly enjoyed The 519’s Queer Family Pride Party) I fear the main event itself is slowly but surely becoming an unwieldy tourist extravaganza with a dwindling quotient of gay flair. There’s the now entrenched corporatization, the sometimes alienating magnitude of the event and the growing anonymity of something that was once rooted in community. Looking around the very mixed crowd on Church St this weekend it seemed like more of an exercise in crowd control and entrepreneurial spirit than a celebration of same-sex attraction.

But part of my lacklustre response could be attributed to mixed feelings about the organization behind the event, Pride Toronto. On the one hand I appreciate how much work goes into organizing an event of Pride’s magnitude. Like it or not the fest has become a monster child, with all sorts of associated logistical nightmares. I also appreciate how difficult the year must have been for the organizers — by accident or design there was a huge turnover in staff members between the 2008 and 2009 Pride Weeks. So here’s to all the people who made Pride happen. You pulled this one out of the fire and that’s no small feat.

On the other hand Pride Toronto has shown a lot of defensiveness and an impulse to exert control that worries me, not to mention some extremely poor communication. I’m dismayed by reports of volunteers who are feeling less than appreciated, less than listened to. I’m alarmed that the leadership at Pride Toronto doesn’t quite seem to understand the difference between being nonpartisan and being apolitical. I’m shaking my head as to how certain entertainment acts with no discernable queer connection were favoured over local bands featuring actual queer performers. I’m questioning the ideological significance of introducing a VIP line bypass system that allowed preferred access to Pride stages for a fee.


Pride is something that belongs to all of us and although we rely on Pride Toronto’s growing staff and huge team of volunteers to coordinate the event we want to know that at the end of the day they’re paying attention to the community that birthed the event, the people the event is supposed to be for and about.

I hope now that this year’s event is over and done with that we — as individuals, as a community — will take a step back and ask ourselves what Pride means to us and what we are willing to do to make it meaningful. Become a voting member of Pride Toronto and have your say. Stay tuned to Xtra for details on Pride’s next general meeting or watch Pridetoronto.com for updates.

Pride is dead. Long live Pride.

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